The Female of the Species (1912) Poster

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Steffi_P1 July 2008
The Female of the Species is one of many remarkable Biograph shorts from the year 1912, and certainly represents a great leap forward in screen acting and direction of actors.

Griffith temporarily abandons his own rule of three-quarter length shots, with everyone cut off below the knees, instead framing the actors from the waist up in most shots. The crucial difference here is that the faces become much clearer, and the physical acting becomes that much less important. It's my belief that a large part of directing of performances comes from where you place the camera. Actors will play to the camera, so if they know their face is being focused on they will act with it. Griffith obviously cast the actors here for their faces too. Dorothy Bernard's face is a picture of distraught innocence, and Claire McDowell proves particularly good at conveying contempt. It's also interesting to note how the minor characters – the Indian family and the two cowboys – are filmed in Griffith's more familiar mid-shot, so they don't intrude upon the drama of faces going on between the three leads.

Everything else is left to Griffith's usual care in construction. The psychological impact of his staging of shots is important here. For the bulk of the film the actors are moving towards us – all the better to see those faces, of course, but the fact that they are constantly advancing upon the audience gives a more menacing quality to the film. In the final shot, the storyline resolved, they walk away from us, giving a sense of change and completion. Griffith was also by now adept at balancing and pacing a story. For example, he adds a moment of frantic action two-thirds of the way through, when the Indian father is shot. Griffith knows that the very slow pace of the film couldn't be maintained without the audience becoming bored, no matter how engrossing the acting is, so it was necessary to give the pace a little boost at that point.

From this point on, faces would become increasingly important in Griffith's work. He had been using close-ups for a while, but they were mostly functional ones, showing us objects or actions in more detail. Now, he was on the verge of showing how close-ups of faces could be used for emotional and psychological impact.
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My Favorite Griffith Film
moonchildiva23 February 2005
Claire McDowell is my favorite character in this film, an amazing presence. I've been watching this film all my life, I bought an 8mm from Blackhawk Films in the 70s, to view it, using my Dad's projector and screen without music. We were all interested in Mary Pickford's performance, very much unlike her later roles, of course. She's such a trouble maker in this movie! And Dorothy Bernard is so lovely, she really makes you feel for her, unjustly accused of flirting with Mary Pickford's older sister (Claire McDowell)'s husband! I enjoy the title cards, especially the use of the word "vagaries" - an archaic word that I've recently used in a song, with all credit to DW Griffith. When the baby cries, I always felt that I could HEAR it in this silent film. I get that involved in it. In fact, we started wearing our hair like they do, when we first saw this movie in the 70s on public television! Now I have it on DVD, that Griffith collection of short films. I think I'll watch it today!
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Sinister Mary
adt12521 August 2008
A tight production with no wasted shots, flows develops and resolves nicely in tempo and enjoyable for it. We are treated with some remnants of the old stage wild hand movements but not too much. The 'wronged' woman is depicted well and you can feel her isolation from the three.

This must be one of only very few films where Mary Pickford plays a sinister dark role. She created the initial problem by suggesting to her sister something might be up between the husband and the other woman and, throughout treated the 'other' woman with some contempt and suspicion. Love the little sneer she gave!! The only contemptuous nasty sneer I have seen from Pickford.

Throughout the film you see Mary at the back of most scenes or rather behind the two woman, almost lurking and suspicious and, at the very end it is Mary who is out in front, her back to us, her dark looking presence gone and the two woman together.

It is also very noticeable that Pickford moves body and hands deliberately very slowly, especially at the beginning - method acting as the thirsty woman in the desert. Mary gives a stillness and quietness to the setting amongst the greater actions of the others.

This is the only dark role I have seen Mary in and she did it well, too bad she got type-cast so soon into other guises. Also very nice to see the healthy full face of the young 20 year old Mary (and recently married to Owen Moore).

One can only wonder at Griffith's message with this film and its title, considering his background and his other moralistic films. He seems to be saying three woman together is trouble, a triangle leaves room for back biting. This is idea is reinforced at the end of the film where you see Pickford out of the way in the distance and the two women problems solved together. But a baby is the magic formula for harmony among women. Pretty obvious I guess - he is saying a woman's position is with child.
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Short content description, significance in film history.
Jos.Rock13 May 2000
As with most of Griffith's Biograph one-reelers, this film is melodramatic and moralistic. It tells the story of three women and a man marooned in the desert, trying to walk out. The man dies; acrimony between his wife and one of the women ensues; they find an orphaned indian baby and are reconciled by their mutual devotion to the maternal virtues. This is standard Griffith fare. The film is exceptional, though, for the quality of photography and composition. The clearly-drawn characters, and the emotional intensity revealed by the use of close-ups, looks forward to Griffith's use of these techniques in "Birth of a Nation" three years later.
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Completely Spellbinding Biograph Short Film
overseer-324 May 2004
Three of D.W. Griffith's stock company actresses - Claire McDowell, Dorothy Bernard, and Mary Pickford - give performances of a lifetime in this intense and surrealistic Biograph short, made in the California desert in April, 1912, the same month the Titanic went down, and released the day after that tragedy.

At times the film looks like it was made yesterday, not 80+ years ago; it is in great condition. The dark plot of madness, the closeups of the actresses, and the nuances of their subtle yet powerful performances, make this particular Griffith short stand out from all the rest. The piano soundtrack for this short film is truly outstanding, the best on the disc set "D.W. Griffith 'Years of Discovery'".

Highly recommended, not to be missed. 10 out of 10.
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Pretty weird stuff...
MartinHafer3 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The full title for this film is "The Female of the Species: A Psychological Tragedy".

Wow, is this a bizarre film. It begins with a man and three women leaving their mining camp to head for supplies--they're out of food and water and it's in what looks like the desert of California. Soon after leaving, and does this appear out of no where, the man attacks one of the women because he's a pervert. However, when his wife and one of the other women return to see this happening, two odd things happen. First, they think the lady came on to the man! Second, and this is truly strange, the guy just up and dies when they return in some sort of apoplectic fit or heart attack or something! Talk about a contrived plot!!! So, they bury him (why--he IS a potential source of food) and the two women grudgingly take her with them.

The next day, an American-Indian man and woman are stumbling about in the desert as well. This is actually pretty funny, as the Indian lady overacts horribly--I mean REAAALLLY horribly. To shut her up, the guy tries to steal some supplied from a couple cowboys and is shot for his efforts. Soon, the three women happen upon the Indian lady. She's dead but her child is alive--and the three put aside their hatred to take the child with them back to civilization in a strange and somewhat happy ending! Overall, an odd but entertaining film. Note that one of the three women (not the wife but the sister-in-law) is played by a young Mary Pickford.
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Womankind Overcomes Man's Vagary
wes-connors12 November 2007
Subtitled "A Psychological Tragedy", this one's about four survivors of a deserted mining camp making their way across a hot and windy western desert. Claire McDowell leads the group; alongside her are: her ailing husband Charles West, and her sister Mary Pickford. Before leaving, Ms. McDowell invites abandoned woman Dorothy Bernard to join the group; and, she gratefully accepts. As they journey, Mr. West's health falters, and Ms. Bernard is rebuffed for showing him some possible affection.

At their first rest stop, lady leader McDowell takes Ms. Pickford out to fetch some water, leaving husband West alone with the comely Bernard. Pickford has already begun to suspect Bernard is making advances on her brother-in-law, and persuades her sister to sneak back and catch the twosome. Sure enough, they discover Bernard and West trysting - however, it was West who initiated the contact, not the suspected Bernard. After West dies of his ailments, McDowell and Pickford become obsessed with vengeance, disbelieving the innocent Bernard…

A atmospherically visual treat from D.W. Griffith, G.W. Bitzer and the good folks at Biograph; "The Female of the Species" is filmed in warm and windy California. The performances of the lead actresses McDowell, Pickford, and Bernard are outstanding. The story is not up to snuff, however - the "womankind" strengths are unbalanced by some odd motivations and situations. Perhaps the most implausible moment occurs when husband West's "dominant vagary" temporarily cures whatever is ailing him, so he can vigorously attack his alluring prey. Obviously, somebody needed to bottle vagary!

****** The Female of the Species (4/15/12) D.W. Griffith ~ Claire McDowell, Mary Pickford, Dorothy Bernard
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Strictly for Star Power and Experience
Hitchcoc2 March 2017
Four people are trying to find their way to some food and water in a hot desert. As two of them scour the countryside the other stays behind with the man, husband of Mary Pickford. When the two come back, they see the man tussling with the woman. He came on to her but they leap to the conclusion that she is at fault. Out of the blue, the man drops dead. So the three are now heading through the desolate space, with the two sisters thinking murderous thoughts about this girl. They treat her like dirt. There are lots of little developments that lead to some kind of reconciliation. The film shows Mary Pickford, our eternal sweetheart, as a bad one.
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Will probably cause a good deal of discussion
deickemeyer29 October 2016
A picture giving us a remarkable psychological study. It is very effectively and vividly presented and will probably cause a good deal of discussion. It is acted for the most part by three players, and these roles are taken by the three best known ladies of the Biograph Company. The background is the desert and we are given remarkable views of it, with its cutting sand dust, its strange growths, cactus and the like, and its deadly thirst. The action that the picture shows transpires while these three women are crossing the desert toward civilization. Its object, very roughly speaking, is to bring out dramatically two or three considerations that strongly affect the female of the species in her attitude toward life. The picture is clean-handed, artistically strong and unusually interesting. The photographs are excellent. We call it a feature and think it would serve as such almost anywhere. - The Moving Picture World, April 27, 1912
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Skillfully Made Short Melodrama
Snow Leopard21 August 2001
Some very good cinematic touches make this simple melodrama a good short feature. The story is simple and a bit too dependent on coincidence, but otherwise it is a skillfully made little film that will hold your attention. The plot concerns a small group of survivors from an abandoned mining town, who are making a desperate journey across the desert when tensions erupt and threaten all of their lives. The acting is quite good for the most part, and the cast includes Mary Pickford, though in a role quite different from those that would later make her famous. The filming was done with the old method of fixing the camera's field of reference for each scene, but Griffith did a lot to make up for it. In particular, the desert atmosphere is established very well through good backgrounds, blowing sand, and the like. It's a worthwhile film for anyone interested in these very old short features.
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Great short
Michael_Elliott29 February 2008
Female of the Species, The (1912)

**** (out of 4)

D.W. Griffith short about a miner (Charles West), his wife (Claire McDowell), her sister (Mary Pickford) and another woman (Dorothy Bernard) traveling across the desert after a local mine closes. Along the way the wife begins to think that the other woman is having an affair with her husband and she wants vengeance. Here's one of the best Griffith shorts I've seen with the director perfectly blending the suspense and sentimental aspects. The four performers do a terrific job in their roles. Once again the locations are really beautiful. A historical sidenote is that this film was released theatrically the day after the Titanic sunk.
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